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Integrating violent youngsters into clubs

Setting youngsters with violent tendencies on a different path by encouraging them to pursue combat sports and physical experiences in a club setting – this is the goal of the new “Socius” project by the Institute of Sports Science. The venture has already found its first partner, a club within Würzburg.

Is combat sport really the way to encourage violent young people to abandon their aggressive behavior? Professor Harald Lange sees no contradiction in this. The head of the Institute of Sports Science at the University of Würzburg firmly believes that “through combat in a controlled environment young people can learn to respect their opponent as a partner and that they can feel with their own bodies the correlation between what they do and what they achieve as a result. It is a path toward preventing violence.”

Doctoral student Christoph Ritz shares this view. He is of the opinion that the causes of violence lie mainly in family circumstances: emotional neglect, little care and attention, no security. “Children and young people who are ostensibly violent have few if any positive role models; they do not have the capability to talk things out with others. Socially acceptable conduct and a debate culture – these are things they have to learn first,” explains Ritz. He feels that combat sport, without getting too close to the other person or injuring him in any way, offers a suitable framework for this learning process: with the help of clear rules, the young people can acquire interpersonal physical experiences, engage in physical contact, measure themselves against others, and find out their limits.

Combat sport, discussion groups, and care and attention

However, combat sports training will not be the be-all and end-all of the Socius project run by Würzburg sports instructors. It will be supplemented by discussion groups, therapeutic running sessions, and other educational activity-related measures. “Sport is a great way to get through to difficult youngsters,” says Christoph Ritz. He knows this from experience, having spent a long time looking after the remand sports groups at Würzburg prison – the subject of his degree dissertation.

“If people are completely exhausted after an intense physical workout, they are more open to conversation.” What kind of life do you lead and why? How do you handle awkward situations? Subjects such as these can then be raised. This encourages the young people to reflect and gives them a gentle nudge.

Own taekwondo department set up

So, how exactly will the “Socius” project work? The partner club, Freie Turner, has set up its own taekwondo department. Together with the instructors, Christoph Ritz and his colleague, Carlos Luis Granados, will try to integrate violent youngsters here. Both are licensed trainers: Christoph in boxing and Muay Thai boxing, Carlos in taekwondo.

There will be physical contests twice a week, and running once a week. Added to these will be discussion groups in the university sports center on Mergentheimer Straße, right next to the Freie Turner club’s premises. The project is open to 25 to 30 young people aged between 11 and 19. They must join in of their own accord. The project is starting now; the first participants have already signed up, girls among them. The first results are expected by the middle of 2011.

Involving the parents of young people

“Our contact with the young people will be very close,” says Christoph Ritz. This will include picking them up from home to take them to their sports lessons. If the youngsters are in touch with their parents, they too should be involved. This may strengthen and improve the relationship between children and parents.

Doctoral thesis accompanies the project

What the measures ultimately achieve will be examined scientifically by Christoph Ritz. What changes are there in the experience and social behavior of the young people? This will become clear through questionnaires and interviews with those concerned, their parents, the sports instructors, and other parties involved.

The sports scientist from Würzburg is writing his thesis on the project. In conjunction with a school-related study, the doctoral project by Thomas Leffler, it marks another cornerstone of the institute’s focus on “learning combat and preventing violence”: “Because this project will bring to light many fundamental educational sports and activity issues while also providing tangible practical perspectives, the focal point of research will undoubtedly be expanded in the near future. There will therefore be scope for students to write bachelor’s, master’s, or teaching theses,” believes Professor Harald Lange.

Network as a help for young people

The network that the sports scientists will establish for their project will be complex. The aim is to win over more sports clubs after Freie Turner. The Bavarian Regional Sports Federation (BLSV) and national combat sports clubs will be joining in because the opportunity to train with Olympic champions, for example, may be a great incentive for the young people.

Probably the most important thing, however, will be the participation of social institutions that will initiate the contact with young people with violent tendencies and provide support: education authority, youth welfare office, general social services, probation services, juvenile court services, the police, and other partners have already been brought on board by the sports scientists.


Prof. Dr. Harald Lange & Christoph Ritz, Institute of Sports Science at the University of Würzburg, T +49 (0)931 31-80777,,

Robert Emmerich | idw
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